Obamacare Repeal: A Tribe Of Too Many Chiefs

J.T. Young Former Treasury Department and OMB Official
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Republicans’ effort to replace ObamaCare died not on the battlefield, but in their war councils.  It is the consummate tale of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.  Simply, had the Republican tribe fought, instead of talked, they would have won.  Failing to bring victory, their nine-month ObamaCare ordeal hopefully brought Republicans insight for future fights.

Republicans managed to rewrite the dictum that victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is always a bastard.  Republicans’ ObamaCare debacle happened precisely because there were too many would-be fathers.  For these would-be leaders, the perfect did not simply become the enemy of the good, but of any and every alternative.

For a process over-burdened with unending questions forever forestalling action, it is amazing how many basic ones apparently went unasked, let alone answered.  They are not difficult, but are the ones their constituents asked themselves throughout Republicans’ prolonged internal debate.

The first was pre-answered: Is ObamaCare bad and in need of reform? Absolutely.  Republican candidates had resoundingly and unceasingly answered this since its inception.  ObamaCare has: hemorrhaged money, seen enrollees’ premiums skyrocket, plans exit areas, consumer choice fall, and consistently failed to meet enrollment goals – despite onerous penalties.   Only the most ardent liberal policymakers, who see ObamaCare as stepping stone for more government involvement in health care, do not see it as an unmitigated disaster.

Were any of the myriad replacements at least as good as ObamaCare?  Considering how bad ObamaCare is, how could at least one not have been?  If so, then such would seem worth the risk of at least trying – you are no worse off and at least have the chance for improvement.  Einstein reputedly observed that insanity’s definition “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  So opting for a different option is at least a sane strategy.

Were any of the replacement plans even marginally better?  Again, considering ObamaCare’s track record and declining trajectory, it is hard to imagine one was not.  If so, “better” is always … better.  Anywhere other than Congress and on anything other than this, that alone would be enough.

Was not at least one of the many replacement plans considerably better than ObamaCare – even if not perfect?  The greatest number of basic questions – and voters’ least patience – center on the “imperfect” excuse.

When and how did these enemies of the good expect to get something better?  The protection expediting Congressional consideration (known as “reconciliation”) of any replacement legislation was expiring at the end of September.

More time was needed?  Nine months as the top priority was somehow insufficient and “more time” – in an election year – would have overcome that?  No. Would post-election have made it somehow easier?  No.  Working with Democrats?  Nope – what reason would Democrats have to seriously do so, and what leverage – following your own inability to coalesce – did you have to compel them?

Were you somehow planning to convert everyone else to your minority view?  The much larger majority had been unable to convince you – a tiny minority – in three-quarters of a year.   So how was this much harder task to be done when you had thus far been unable to do so?

Normal people – specifically your voters – do not have the luxury of ideological purity and the pursuit of perfection in their own lives.  The rest of the world – who work, not talk, for a living —  long ago had to come to grips with imperfect.  They do on a daily basis, throughout every aspect of their lives. Perfect to them is inconceivable and its pursuit laughable.  Far from seeking it from you, they simply elected you to make things better.  It is little wonder they see less of themselves in Congress and more of what they elected you to fix.

In many ways some conservatives appear to have fallen victim to liberals’ illusion that government is, and can, be perfect.  This has never been the conservative view.  Yet by adopting it, conservatives make losers of those desiring limited government.  If those who want more government will always accept half a loaf – or less – and those who want limited government will only settle for the whole loaf – or nothing – then the outcome is preordained.  Time only benefits the former.  Today’s evidence is a still standing, despite failing, ObamaCare.

In the next fight, whether over ObamaCare again or other issues, Republicans should remember what lost them this one.  When you go into battle, it is never a problem to have too many Indians.  However, first you have to get there.  And to do so, you cannot be a tribe of too many chiefs.

The author served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.

Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.